George Andrew Olah's research involves the generation and reactivity of carbocations via superacids. Besides the Nobel Prize, he has also been awarded the Priestley Medal which is the highest honour granted by the American Chemical Society.
George Andrew Olah was born on May 22, 1927, in Budapest, Hungary. He studied and taught at the Technical University of Budapest. Olah attended a Gymnasium which was a combination of junior and senior high school at one of the best schools in Budapest which was run by the Piarist Fathers, a Roman Catholic order. The school had a strict and demanding curriculum which heavily emphasized on the humanities that included eight years of Latin along with German and French as other obligatory languages.
After graduating from the high school and having survived the ravages of war in Budapest and realizing the difficulties of facing life in a small and war torn country, Olah started to study chemistry upon entering university and was being attracted by the wide diversity it offered. Organic chemistry always intrigued Olah and he was fortunate to become a research assistant to Professor Geza Zemplen who was the senior professor of organic chemistry in Hungary. Zemplen himself was a student of Emil Fischer in Berlin. He established a reputable school in Hungary which specialized in organic chemistry. As Fischer, he too expected his students to pay their own way and even paid for the privilege to work in his laboratory.
He then immigrated to Canada in the year 1956 and later to the United States. He taught at the Case Western Reserve University and the University of Southern California. Olah is currently working as a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California and is the director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute. In 2005, Olah wrote an essay which promoted the methanol economy.
His research involves the generation and reactivity of carbocations via superacids. He has also been awarded the Priestley Medal which is the highest honour granted by the American Chemical Society.
Isolation of carbocations
George Andrew Olah searched for stable carbocations which led to the discovery of protonated methane which was stabilized by superacids, like FSO3H-SbF5 or the magic acid. CH4 + H+ → CH5+
George Andrew Olah was also involved in a career-long battle with Herbert C. Brown of Purdue over the existence of so-called "non-classical" carbocations such as the norbornyl cation, which can be depicted as cationic character delocalized over several bonds. He often visited different countries in search for science.
In recent years, his research shifted from hydrocarbons and their transformation into fuel to the methanol economy. He is now with Robert Zubrin, Anne Korin, and James Woolsey in promoting a flexible-fuel mandate initiative.
George Andrew Olah won the 1994 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the work he did in the 1960s wherein he isolated the carbocations or carbonium ions.